A Free Society Requires Educational Freedom

 

shutterstock_81053836Over at the Washington Post’s essential Volokh Conspiracy blog, David Kopel retells the fascinating and important story of how, in 1922, the US Supreme Court came to recognize the right to teach one’s children in a language other than English — an extension of the general right to raise and educate one’s children according to one’s conscience.

In 1919, Nebraska outlawed teaching students younger than 9th grade in any language other than English. Like the Blaine Amendments, such laws were primarily directed at Catholic and Lutheran schools, which often taught religious studies in the native tongues of children’s immigrant families. When Robert T. Meyer, a schoolteacher at a Lutheran school, was arrested for teaching in German, he appealed his conviction all the way to the US Supreme Court.

Meyer’s lawyer, Arthur Mullen, argued that the Nebraska law violated the 14th Amendment’s guarantee of liberty, which he explained included “the right to study, and the right to use the human intellect as a man sees fit… [M]ental liberty is more important than the right to be physically free.” In response to pushback from Justice James Clark McReynolds during oral arguments, Mullen argued that the freedom of parents to educate their children in their religious tradition and values is central to freedom generally:

Mr. Justice McReynolds sometimes pushed me hard. “What about the power of the state,” he demanded, “to require that children to attend public schools. You will admit that, will you not?”

“I do not admit that,” I said.

“You do not admit it?” he asked in evident surprise.

“I do not admit it,” I repeated. “I deny that a state can, by a majority of the legislature, require me to send my child to the public schools. I deny that any such legislative power exists in a constitutional government. The question here is at the very base of this case. It is a blow to education. It is a striking down of the principle that a parent has control over the education of his child. This is one of the most important questions that have been presented for a generation, because it deals with the principles of the soviet. Here is an act requiring the child to be taught religion after dark or on Sundays. In Russia they abolished religious teaching altogether. There are 147 different languages in Russia, and you cannot teach a child religion in any one of them over there. That is the question which is involved in the right to run private institutions.

Mullen succeeded in persuading Justice McReynolds, who authored the 7-2 decision in Meyer v. Nebraska, enshrining the right to “establish a home and bring up children” as one of at least eight rights that the 14th Amendment’s guarantee of liberty includes, along with the rights “to contract, to engage in any of the common occupations of life, to acquire useful knowledge, to marry, […] to worship God according to the dictates of his own conscience, and generally to enjoy those privileges long recognized at common law as essential to the orderly pursuit of happiness by free men.”

Reflecting on the case later in life, Mullen wrote of the importance of freedom of education, which he believed was necessary to preserve the rights guaranteed by the First Amendment: “if the state can put shackles on the minds of youth,” then it can “throttle[] desire for freedom of the press and of speech and of religion.”

The government exercises less control today over what’s taught in private school classrooms (at least directly), but how much educational freedom do we really have when “free” government schools crowd out most alternatives? As my colleague Neal McCluskey explained recently, this is why educational choice is, ultimately, about freedom:

This is first and foremost a normative conviction. Freedom must have primacy because society is ultimately composed of individuals, and leaving individuals the right and ability to control their own lives is fundamentally more just than having the state – be it through a single dictator, or majority of voters – control our thoughts, words, or actions.

Of course, children are subject to someone’s control no matter what. But a corollary to free individuals, especially when no one is omniscient and there is no unanimous agreement on what is the “right” way to live, or think, or believe, must be free association – free, authentic communities. We must allow people and communities marked by hugely diverse religious, philosophical, or moral views, and rich ethnic and cultural identities and backgrounds, to teach their children those things. Short of stopping incitement of violence or clear parental abuse, the state should have no authority to declare that “your culture is acceptable,” or “yours must go.” Indeed, crush the freedom of communities and you inevitably cripple individual liberty, taking away one’s choices of how and with whom to live.

As I’ve written before, a free society should have an education system that respects and reflects that freedom.

There are 20 comments.

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  1. AIG Inactive
    AIG
    @AIG

    Jason Bedrick: The government exercises less control today over what’s taught in private school classrooms (at least directly), but how much educational freedom do we really have when “free” government schools crowd out most alternatives?

    All fine and good up until this point. This is like one of those “when did you stop beating your wife?” type of questions.

    Schools in the US are run by local school boards, funded and controlled by locals. Of course there are broader standards at the state and federal levels, but its up to you to demonstrate that these are somehow limiting “freedom”, rather than taking it for granted that they must necessarily do so.

    There’s no such thing as “free” government schools. Schools are mostly limited to people living in the communities they serve; i.e. access only to those who pay for it through taxes. It’s about as local an institution as one gets in the US.

    And what’s the evidence or mechanism for the “crowding out”?

    • #1
  2. Quietpi Member
    Quietpi
    @Quietpi

    Local school boards are, to a great extent preempted by federal and state laws and regulations, and by the courts.  Some local control remains, to be sure.

    And at least monthly I read of a case somewhere in the U.S. where a teacher or administrator expresses an opinion that is not politically correct.  Even if it’s uttered on his/her own time, and is not connected in any way with his/her position, he/she can expect at least a reprimand, and often he/she is fired.  How many posts have there been right here, discussing this very freezing-out of free thinking, particularly in colleges and universites?

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  3. AIG Inactive
    AIG
    @AIG

    Quietpi:Local school boards are, to a great extent preempted by federal and state laws and regulations, and by the courts. Some local control remains, to be sure.

    Everything is subject to some state or federal laws. Some local control is an under-statement. People pay a lot of money to buy houses in particular school districts for a reason: there’s big differences between individual school districts.

    Quietpi: And at least monthly I read of a case somewhere in the U.S. where a teacher or administrator expresses an opinion that is not politically correct. Even if it’s uttered on his/her own time, and is not connected in any way with his/her position, he/she can expect at least a reprimand, and often he/she is fired. How many posts have there been right here, discussing this very freezing-out of free thinking, particularly in colleges and universites?

    If there’s one case every month, it means it is an infinitesimally small problem, rather than a big one. There’s millions of people working in education. But this is an issue of where and how “freedom of speech” applies. There are obviously many situations it does not apply. Your boss can fire you in your company for it. Not that I’m agreeing with the practice, but you always have the ability to sue them if you think it’s illegal or a violation of your rights. How do those suits turn out?

    • #3
  4. Nick Stuart Inactive
    Nick Stuart
    @NickStuart

    Jason Bedrick: A Free Society Requires Educational Freedom

    Yep, but here’s the problem with Education Freedom. It will require Education Reform.

    Reform will never happen. Too many people make too much money off the system as it is.

    Yes, every so often you read about a pilot project here. A charter school there. But eventually they all get dragged back down to the mean (or they don’t fulfill their promise anyway).

    Meanwhile the millions of school children who aren’t part of the pilot project, or can’t get into the charter school, or don’t qualify for the voucher sweat out 13 soul-killing years of hard Left tutelage by time-serving drones who are willing bondservants of a system whose foundational world view is atheistic materialism (with materialist evolution as its creation story, and safe sex as its sacrament).

    “Oh, but public schools are locally controlled by an elected school board. Get off your half moons and elect good board members.” Checks out in theory, but in practice school board elections are conducted in off-off-off election cycles. The public school employees, and their friends, and their relatives, and every student’s parent they’ve been able to scare witless about the non-teacher union candidates turn out to elect the teachers union’s slate. Seen it happen a number of times here locally. It is a dynamic virtually impossible to overturn.

    No matter who you are (Left, Right, Center, Anarchist, Gay, Straight, Bi, Religious, Irreligious, Black, White, Brown, Yellow, etc.) the public schools are not safe for your child. The hard, unpalatable fact of the matter is parents who are concerned about their children’s education have to either homeschool them, or enroll them in a private school.

    • #4
  5. AIG Inactive
    AIG
    @AIG

    Nick Stuart:“Oh, but public schools are locally controlled by an elected school board. Get off your half moons and elect good board members.” Checks out in theory, but in practice school board elections are conducted in off-off-off election cycles. The public school employees, and their friends, and their relatives, and every student’s parent they’ve been able to scare witless about the non-teacher union candidates turn out to elect the teachers union’s slate. Seen it happen a number of times here locally. It is a dynamic virtually impossible to overturn.

    No matter who you are (Left, Right, Center, Anarchist, Gay, Straight, Bi, Religious, Irreligious, Black, White, Brown, Yellow, etc.) the public schools are not safe for your child. The hard, unpalatable fact of the matter is parents who are concerned about their children’s education have to either homeschool them, or enroll them in a private school.

    Most people like their public schools. Your argument would only apply if people didn’t like their public schools. Yet, that’s not the case.

    So either parents are wrong, or your perception of the public school system is wrong.

    I’m getting flashbacks of Obamacare in this case: it doesn’t matter if you like your school, we don’t like it so we’re going to change it, because, freedom.

    • #5
  6. Lucy Pevensie Inactive
    Lucy Pevensie
    @LucyPevensie

    AIG:Most people like their public schools. Your argument would only apply if people didn’t like their public schools. Yet, that’s not the case.

    Because  . . .  you say so?  Americans’ confidence in public schools is at 31%, with a historic average of 40%, according to Gallup.

    • #6
  7. AIG Inactive
    AIG
    @AIG

    Lucy Pevensie:

    AIG:Most people like their public schools. Your argument would only apply if people didn’t like their public schools. Yet, that’s not the case.

    Because . . . you say so? Americans’ confidence in public schools is at 31%, with a historic average of 40%, according to Gallup.

    Their…public school.

    58% of American parents give…their…public school a grade of A or B.

    So not because I say so. Because they say so. What their opinions of “public school” in general are, are irrelevant. What they think of the particular school they have control over, is what matters.

    So if they like their school, what do you know about it that they don’t?

    PS: What “Americans” think of public schools is also irrelevant. It’s parents that matter, not everyone else.

    • #7
  8. Derek Simmons Member
    Derek Simmons
    @

    Yes–SCOTUS got it right in announcing the parental right to raise their child in a foreign language and culture. BUT…. then SCOTUS always loses its way when down the line it creates rights for the resultant non-English speaking adults to vote in their “native” tongue and speak it in the workplace. Actions have consequences. Ideas have consequences. Parents who rightly exercise their right to create little linguistic and cultural ghettos in the home and neighborhood are then wrongly pandered to by SCOTUS when those children demand “govco” to cater to their limitations as adults.

    • #8
  9. Doug Watt Moderator
    Doug Watt
    @DougWatt

    Another case argued in the Supreme Court might be of interest. Oregon had a very active Ku Klux Klan presence in the 1920’s.

    Pierce, Governor of Oregon, et al. v. Society of the Sisters of the Holy Names of Jesus and Mary, 268 U.S. 510 (1925), was an early 20th-century United States Supreme Court decision striking down a Oregon statute that required all children to attend public school. The decision significantly expanded coverage of the Due Process Clause in the Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution to recognize personal civil liberties The Court deliberated for about 10 weeks before issuing their decision on 1 June 1925. The Court unanimously upheld the lower court’s decision, and the injunction against the amended Act.

    On November 7, 1922, the voters of Oregon passed an initiative amending Oregon Law Section 5259, the Compulsory Education Act. The citizens’ initiative was primarily aimed at eliminating parochial schools, including Catholic schools.

    Associate Justice James Clark McReynolds wrote the opinion of the Court. He stated that children were not “the mere creature[s] of the state” (268 U.S. 510, 535), and that, by its very nature, the traditional American understanding of the term liberty prevented the state from forcing students to accept instruction only from public schools. He stated that this responsibility belonged to the child’s parents or guardians, and that the ability to make such a choice was a liberty protected by the Fourteenth Amendment.

    • #9
  10. Tuck Inactive
    Tuck
    @Tuck

    Jason Bedrick: …Reflecting on the case later in life, Mullen wrote of the importance of freedom of education, which he believed was necessary to preserve the rights guaranteed by the First Amendment: “if the state can put shackles on the minds of youth,” then it can “throttle[] desire for freedom of the press and of speech and of religion.”…

    Well, the state has certainly succeeded in that endeavor.  We no longer have a free society by any standard the Founders would have recognized.

    • #10
  11. Jason Bedrick Inactive
    Jason Bedrick
    @JasonBedrick

    AIG:

    And what’s the evidence or mechanism for the “crowding out”?

    When the government provides something for “free” (no charge to the user, that is; obviously taxpayers foot the bill), then it distorts the market by crowding out private competition.

    Schools in the US are run by local school boards, funded and controlled by locals. Of course there are broader standards at the state and federal levels, but its up to you to demonstrate that these are somehow limiting “freedom”, rather than taking it for granted that they must necessarily do so.

    That’s not quite accurate. Much of the funding (most in some places) comes from the state government, and enough comes from the feds that they have a say in what goes on in the classroom as well, such pushing states into adopting Common Core, which has certainly limited the freedom of schools and communities to determine what is taught when and how.

    • #11
  12. Jason Bedrick Inactive
    Jason Bedrick
    @JasonBedrick

    Nick Stuart:Yep, but here’s the problem with Education Freedom. It will require Education Reform.

    Reform will never happen. Too many people make too much money off the system as it is

    It’s certainly a difficult battle with the odds stacked against reform, but there has been a lot of progress in recent years. Here’s a recap of the progress made in just the last year:

    http://www.cato.org/blog/year-educational-choice-update-vi

    • #12
  13. Jason Bedrick Inactive
    Jason Bedrick
    @JasonBedrick

    AIG:

    Most people like their public schools. Your argument would only apply if people didn’t like their public schools. Yet, that’s not the case.

    So either parents are wrong, or your perception of the public school system is wrong.

    I’m getting flashbacks of Obamacare in this case: it doesn’t matter if you like your school, we don’t like it so we’re going to change it, because, freedom.

    That’s partially true. Setting aside the truly awful public schools, surveys do show that most Americans like their district school. But there’s still a sizable number who don’t. The problem is that control over the schools is exercised via politics rather than the market. In a free market, those who don’t get what they one from one company can go to another company. In a political system, there is a vote, which produces winners and losers.

    (Clearly, I’m oversimplifying the market aspect here. And you might object, “well people who want to leave can just go to a private school.” The problem there is that everyone is forced to pay for the district schools, so anyone who wants to leave has to pay twice — plus, as noted earlier, the “free” government schools have crowded out most alternatives.)

    In any case, most American parents are not getting what they want. A recent survey found that only 36% of parents preferred their district school for their child (41% preferred private schools, 12% charters, 9% homeschooling), but 84% of children actually attend district schools.

    See page 27 of this report: http://www.edchoice.org/research/2015-schooling-in-america-survey/

    • #13
  14. Lucy Pevensie Inactive
    Lucy Pevensie
    @LucyPevensie

    AIG:

    Lucy Pevensie:

    AIG:Most people like their public schools. Your argument would only apply if people didn’t like their public schools. Yet, that’s not the case.

    Because . . . you say so? Americans’ confidence in public schools is at 31%, with a historic average of 40%, according to Gallup.

    Their…public school.

    58% of American parents give…their…public school a grade of A or B.

    You provide no attribution for this statistic, but assuming it is correct, you’re saying the other 42% of American parents can shut up and put up with the schools they don’t like?  I’m trying to figure out your argument. Is there some threshold percentage of people being happy with public schools at which all the unhappy people should just be ignored?  If there is such a percentage, I would hope it would be in the 90s, not in the 50s, but I don’t really accept the premise.

    • #14
  15. AIG Inactive
    AIG
    @AIG

    Lucy Pevensie: You provide no attribution for this statistic, but assuming it is correct, you’re saying the other 42% of American parents can shut up and put up with the schools they don’t like? I’m trying to figure out your argument

    My argument is that most people do like their public schools. Hence, it can’t be so much of a problem as is portrayed here. Your argument is akin to Obamacare: we don’t care if you like your plan, there’s some % of people who don’t, so we’re going to change yours too.

    You can come up with solutions for those other 42%, that don’t affect the 58% who already like what they have.

    Jason Bedrick: In any case, most American parents are not getting what they want. A recent survey found that only 36% of parents preferred their district school for their child (41% preferred private schools, 12% charters, 9% homeschooling), but 84% of children actually attend district schools.

    Everyone prefers a Lamborghini over a Mazda. But, alas.

    Jason Bedrick: When the government provides something for “free” (no charge to the user, that is; obviously taxpayers foot the bill), then it distorts the market by crowding out private competition.

    But its not free. Its limited only to people who live in the district, hence its an excludable good. Its like a “club house”.

    The question is, what’s the problem you’re trying to solve, if most people are satisfied?

    • #15
  16. Jason Bedrick Inactive
    Jason Bedrick
    @JasonBedrick

    AIG: Everyone prefers a Lamborghini over a Mazda. But, alas.

    True, but not an apt comparison here, given that so many private schools spend less per pupil than the average district school, which costs taxpayers about $13,000 per pupil.

    AIG: But its not free. Its limited only to people who live in the district, hence its an excludable good. Its like a “club house”.

    As I explained, a district school is “free” to the user (though obviously, again, it’s paid through taxes). In any case, that’s exactly my point: only those who live in the district have access to it (which is why I prefer the term “district school” to “public school” — a mall is more public than what we call “public” schools).

    AIG: The question is, what’s the problem you’re trying to solve, if most people are satisfied?

    Even if it’s true that 58% of parents rate their school A or B, that’s still 42% of parents who think their school isn’t so great. That’s clearly a problem worth addressing.

    Moreover, even the higher-performing district schools aren’t necessarily the right fit for every student who just happens to live in the district. The geography-based education system does not make sense in today’s world. We’ve had numerous advances in transportation, communication, and technology generally that make the existing system obsolete. It continues to exist not because it is surviving in a competitive market but because government intervention crowds out a competitive market (and the unions, government employees, and various interest groups prefer to keep it that way).

    A system of school choice — vouchers, tax-credit scholarships, or education savings accounts — would empower parents to choose the education that works best for their kids, spur innovation, and cost less per pupil. It would also mean an end to a system that forces citizens into a political, zero-sum game over what their children learn at their assigned district school.

    • #16
  17. MJBubba Inactive
    MJBubba
    @MJBubba

    Schools with a large share of kids from families that are low-income enough to qualify for the free lunch program get supplemental funds from both State and Federal programs, and these schools also rely on a mix of State and Federal grants.  There are both State and Federal strings that get attached to the money on its way from taxpayers to schools.

    • #17
  18. MJBubba Inactive
    MJBubba
    @MJBubba

    When we were homeschooling, we did not get to deduct our education expenses from our tax bill.

    If we had chosen a private school, there was no public schoolbus transportation to school.

    • #18
  19. Lucy Pevensie Inactive
    Lucy Pevensie
    @LucyPevensie

    MJBubba:When we were homeschooling, we did not get to deduct our education expenses from our tax bill.

    If we had chosen a private school, there was no public schoolbus transportation to school.

    Right now, I’m paying private school tuition as well as supporting the public schools through my taxes. Because my daughter is accelerated, she is taking a course through the North Carolina Virtual Public School. She has a friend in public school who is taking the same course. Because my daughter is in private school, we also have to pay tuition to the state for this “public school” course, while my daughter’s friend gets to take the identical course for free.

    • #19
  20. MJBubba Inactive
    MJBubba
    @MJBubba

    Lucy Pevensie:

    MJBubba:When we were homeschooling, we did not get to deduct our education expenses from our tax bill.

    If we had chosen a private school, there was no public schoolbus transportation to school.

    Right now, I’m paying private school tuition as well as supporting the public schools through my taxes. Because my daughter is accelerated, she is taking a course through the North Carolina Virtual Public School. She has a friend in public school who is taking the same course. Because my daughter is in private school, we also have to pay tuition to the state for this “public school” course, while my daughter’s friend gets to take the identical course for free.

    Have you complained about this to your school board representative, or to the board of the NCVPS, or to your state representative ?   You might ask your homeschool association officers or lobbyists for the most effective way to push against these sorts of inequities.

    • #20
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